Service Learning at Trinity School

Service learning at Trinity is about Connections

By Marsha Harris, Director of Curriculum

On a typical day, during a typical year, the hallways of Trinity School are lined with boxes of warm mittens, cozy pajamas, non-perishable food items, shoes, books, stuffed animals, and cardboard arcade games. You see posters in the hallways designed by students that promote their causes. Even in a pandemic, and now more than ever, students and teachers at Trinity remain dedicated to serving our community while ensuring a deep connection to student learning.

There is a difference between community service and service learning. Community service is vitally important for organizations to sustain their impact and goals. They rally their community and supporters to volunteer time, efforts, and financial resources in order to meet the needs of their mission. Service learning promotes all of the same goals with similar needs and includes a student-centered approach that is grounded in clearly defined goals that support curriculum and student experiences. Service learning at Trinity connects the intellectual and the emotional, abstract concepts with a concrete need. 

Trinity’s dedication to serving others has been evident since its inception at Trinity Presbyterian Church in 1951. Our community is full of servant leaders: students, teachers, staff, and parents. We know that meaningful service for children must come from adults who are passionate and able to teach about a specific issue. Even during a pandemic, we have reimagined how we continue to serve and learn in our community.

We believe that serving others begins with our youngest students and evolves as our students grow and mature. In order for community service projects to be meaningful for our students while also making an impact, Trinity’s service learning program is designed to include grade-level specific activities that are developmentally appropriate and have purposeful connections to each grade’s curriculum. Parents, administrators, teachers, and student leadership work collaboratively in the design and implementation of community service at Trinity School.

“We provide themes around the service that our students participate in, and we work really hard to intentionally connect what our students are learning in the classroom with the age-appropriate service they provide the community,” says Early Elementary Division Head Rhonda Mitchell. “This begins with our Early Learners, who are at the beginning stages of literacy development. They have an understanding of what it means to have a bond with their caregivers and the ritual of bedtime reading. The Early Learners’ Warmth Project, which includes donating pajamas and books to children in need, connects to this as students can understand warmth and safety, and love from caregivers and that these circumstances are not always available to everyone. These intentional connections happen across the board in the Early Elementary Division. Early Learners and Pre-K focus on warmth and literacy. Kindergarten and First Grade focus on health and nutrition and providing food to local people.”

Each grade has participated in a service learning project this year, including Kindergartners raising money for Atlanta Community Food Bank by doing chores at home to earn money; Third Graders collecting outerwear for My Sister’s House, an overnight shelter for women and children who are experiencing homelessness in Atlanta; Fourth Graders writing letters to veterans and collecting items to stock their pantries; and Sixth Graders creating welcome kits for families staying at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

“In the Upper Elementary Division, we continue the process of connecting character components of compassion and empathy and gratitude in giving with academic subjects,” says Upper Elementary Division Head Sarah Barton Thomas. “These projects evolve year to year with each of our grade levels, Second through Sixth, deciding on their community service partners to connect with what they are learning in different subject areas.”

Applying an “Issue, Action, Learn” format, let’s take a deeper look at some examples of connecting academic goals with Trinity’s community service projects this school year.

Early Learners and Pre-K: The Warmth Project


Issue: All children need a consistent bedtime routine and a good night’s sleep in order to thrive. 

Action: Early Learners and Pre-K students donate pajamas and books for children in need. 

Learn: Students learned about the basic needs of living things: food, water, shelter, and clothing. Cooperative discussions around bedtime routines—like having a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story, and getting enough sleep—were identified as important healthy habits. The students gained empathy and understanding that not all children have these comforts at home. Their service to the Pajama Project helped children and families in need and integrated with their literacy learning and their unit on gratitude during the Thanksgiving season. 

First Grade: Solidarity Sandy Springs Food Pantry

Issue: Due to COVID-19 and job loss, many families do not have access to enough food.

Action: First Graders gather and donate food, household, and personal items for local individuals in need.

Learn: During the First Grade science unit on healthy habits, students learn about hygiene and healthy food choices. First Graders identified the healthy options on the food list and helped shop for those items with their family. Morning Meeting time consisted of read-alouds about various topics on food and social-emotional competencies. In addition to learning about healthy habits, our students gained an understanding of giving, empathy, compassion, and serving those in need. 

Second Grade: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Issue: Children in long-term care in hospitals need resources to comfort them and make them feel at home. 

Action: Second Graders collect items such as books, art kits, stuffed animals, toys, and create kits for children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Learn: After a lesson based on the book Sometimes by Rebecca Elliot, Second Graders were asked what they would want to have with them if they were not feeling well or were staying in the doctor’s office for long periods of time. The teachers focused on teaching compassion and perspective. 

Fifth Grade: Start With One

Issue: Clean drinking water isn’t accessible to everyone.

Action: Raise money through a walk-a-thon and the Freshwater Fair to purchase water filters for families in Kenya.

Learn: As part of their science unit on freshwater, Fifth Graders explore freshwater around the world, how it’s used, how it’s treated, and where people obtain their drinking water. Students also participate in a year-long study of our own freshwater system through the River Kids program, in which they learn about the local ecosystem, identify aquatic organisms, and analyze samples and data from our creek in Discovery Woods. In language arts, students read Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water about how Sudanese girls have to walk great distances to get water for their families. The Fifth Graders then went on an “empathy walk” in Discovery Woods and discovered the challenge of carrying water for any amount of distance. For two weeks, Fifth Graders participated in a walk-a-thon during the early morning offering Every Lap Counts. The walking element increased students’ awareness of how people in Nakuru, Kenya, must walk five miles to obtain water. As a culmination of the freshwater unit, students held the Fifth Grade’s annual Freshwater Fair, though it looked a little different this year. Students still each designed a game about an animal that is dependent on freshwater, but this year those games traveled around campus for two weeks and Trinity students could play for a five-coin donation. This year’s fair raised $686. Those funds, plus the nearly $20,000 raised from the students’ walk-a-thon, allowed students to buy 507 life-saving freshwater filters through Start With One, which will provide clean water to 507 families for 10 years. In addition to the very real and positive impact these service learning projects have on those in need, the social-emotional impact of this unit of study on our students is profound. They gain a deep understanding of the necessity of clean water and the privilege of having clean, flowing water at their convenience.

“Projects such as these are not just a way to give, but a way to stretch our hearts for empathy, compassion, and to build awareness of the world around us,” says Thomas. “They create a spirit of altruism that certainly warm our own hearts while supporting the needs of others.”

In addition, for the first time, Fifth Grade partnered with the nonprofit Soles4Souls. This organization creates sustainable jobs and distributes new shoes to individuals in need, from those impacted by natural disasters to homeless children, through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world.

“It feels good to donate, especially to people who do not have what is needed,” said Fifth Grader David.

Trinity School is committed to honoring our mission and pillars in all that we do. Each service learning experience is intentionally designed to cherish the joy of childhood at each age and stage of development, empower students in their learning and leadership, and deepen their educational experiences while providing opportunities for creativity and curiosity.

Like in everything we do, the opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences through collaborative conversations, writing or illustrating brings deeper meaning and understanding of the world around us. When students engage both their hearts and their minds on an issue or cause at a young age, they establish a lifelong passion to serve others in need.

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